Saturday, 28 July 2012

Art from the arctic: the victorian illustrations

All along the 19th century, under Queen Victoria, the british lived intensely an arctic seas adventure, searching the Pole by northeast and, by northwest, a passage from the North Atlantic to the Pacific ocean through the Bering strait.

Some beautiful works of art are its best testimony.

Great Britain entered the Age of Ice in 1818, under William IV (The Sailor King), and over the next 100 years the Royal Navy dispatched more than 20 arctic expeditions - either by sea, utilizing ships, or over land, using sledges, canoes, and small boats.

On the way to the Weddell Sea,
James Weddell, A voyage towards the South Pole, 1825.

The Advance and Rescue entering Lancaster Sound,
Elisha Kent Kane, The U.S. Grinnell Expedition, 1854.

Wonderful tales were published of courage, heroism, sacrifice but also serious cientific research - geographic mapping, new animal species and plants, the anthroplogical discovery of the inuit populations...

“Snow Cottages of the Boothians”,
John Ross, Narrative of a Second Voyage, 1835.

All this was illustrated with some magnificent beautiful drawings and paintings by artist sailors, as never before had been done. A great part of the fascination felt by the public was induced by those pictures, published by popular periodicals such as the Quarterly Review, the Edinburgh Review, the Examiner, the Illustrated London News, the Times, and News of the World.

A passage through the ice
John Ross, A Voyage of Discovery, 1819.

Frozen in at Northumberland Sound, under the light of a paraselene
Edward Belcher, The Last of the Arctic Voyages, 1855.

Many of the naval officers were accomplished artists, and so the narratives tended to be well illustrated, often with color plates, and readers were treated to glorious images of icebergs, Inuit seal-hunters, ships beset by floes or frozen into winter harbors, snow houses, walruses, and maps.

Edward Belcher's Arctic Exploring Expedition
Illustrated London News, 1852

“The Dolphin squeezed by Ice”
John Franklin´s Narrative of a Second Expedition, 1828.

Men such as John Barrow, John Franklin, John and James Clark Ross, Robert McClure, John Rae, Edward Parry, William Scoresby, Edward Belcher, were widely admired by people of all classes and received public honours.

HMS Hecla in Baffin Bay
William Edward Parry,Journal of a Voyage, 1821.

Repairing the Esk at Spitsbergen,
William Scoresby, An Account of the Arctic Regions, 1820.

The ice romance culminated in the disappearance of the Franklin expedition. Sent out on yet another search for the Northwest Passage in 1845, it failed to return, and after a three-year absence, the first search expeditions were sent out.

Only eleven years, and thirty-six search expeditions later, the sad fate of Franklin and his men would be fully revealed. Captured by the freezing ice desert, they all died along a desperate escape to the south.

The graves of three of Franklin’s crewmen on Beechey Island,
Elisha Kent Kane, The U.S. Grinnell Expedition, 1854

In the process of the search, the route of the Northwest Passage was found, and the remainder of the Arctic coast and much of the archipelago was explored and mapped.

The “Smoking Cliffs’ of Franklin Bay,
Robert McClure, The Discovery of the North-west Passage by H.M.S. Investigator, 1856.

Taking a sextant reading
George Back, Narrative of an Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, 1838

Finally, ten official narratives were published, as well as several unofficial accounts, all lavishly illustrated, and the public could now encounter the Arctic vicariously, imagining what it would be like to spend a winter in a place where the sun did not shine, or live for months under 40º below zero.

Visiting a remarkable iceberg
John Ross, A Voyage of Discovery, 1819.

Winter dress of officers and men,
Letters written during the Late Voyage of Discovery, 1821.

The 19th century Artic Seas adventures under the reign of Queen Victoria also played an important role in the reborn mythical search for Ultima Thule. Probably never else in History had seeking exploration and adventure in remote lands such a wide appeal and fascination. That's the spirit, here ...


An excellent exhibition of many of those pictures was displayed at Linda Hall Library, Kansas City, in 2010. Most of the images posted here come from its catalogue book, Ice, a Victorian Romance.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Barrow, Alaska - historic landmark, last frontier, western ultima thule

Barrow is the largest city of the North Slope Borough in Alaska, and the northernmost city in the United States, 550 km north of the arctic circle.

Barrow is located in a lowland tundra coastal area among lagoons, and has been flooded recently by the arctic ocean rising levels.

Coordinates: 71°17′ N, 156°45′ W
pop. ~ 4600

Barrow is roughly 2100 km south of the North Pole.

Welcome to Barrow (in inupiaq, Ukpeagvik = "place where owls are hunted")

The town center, with the sign post, the visitor center and the Airport Inn lodge.

Free coffee for tourists! :)

Better in summer...

Nearby, at 14 km to the northeast, Point Barrow is the nation's northernmost point.

Point Barrow is also an important geographical landmark, marking the limit between two marginal seas of the Arctic, the Chukchi Sea on its western side and the Beaufort Sea on the eastern, both delimited to the North by the edge of the map.

The sea water around is normally ice-free for only two or three months a year.

Barrow’s local economy is based on oil but is supplemented by tourism, with visitors arriving during the summer season to enjoy the midnight sun.

Average daylight:

24h in summer months, zero in winter...

The King Eider Inn, in the town center, under twilight moon.

The fur shop and Iñupiat cleaning facility

The Town Hall in the arctic night

Iñupiat whalers launching the umiak at the Chukchi sea

Hunting and fishing are still important for subsistence. Many residents rely upon subsistence food sources: whale, seal, polar bear, walrus, waterfowl, caribou, ducks and fish are harvested from the coast or nearby rivers and lakes.

A house in Barrow after a snow storm

The houses have to be built on stilts to isolate from the frozen permafrost soil of the tundra. The heat from the house would melt it and the house would then sink.

Colourful houses bring some joy to the grey days

The historical town center

Oldest house in Barrow

The main presbyterian church, Utqiagviq

Barrow schools:

The elementary...

...and the secondary school.

The Post office

One of the best buildings in town

Old postage from the "top of the world".

The Iñupiat Heritage Center

A museum with many fascinating Iñupiat displays and artifacts.

Ivory bear and cubs

Ivory kayak

The Iñupiat Heritage Center celebrates Eskimo contributions to whaling.

Local inupiat drummers


Archaeological evidence dates human habitation (by Inupiat Eskimos) in the area from about 500 A.D.

The small town was named in 1826 by british explorer Frederick William Beechey, for Sir John Barrow, geographer of the British Admiralty.

In command the HMS Blossom, Beechey explored the Bering Strait in concert with Franklin and Parry expedition operating from the east. In July 1826, he named the three islands in the Bering Strait. Two were the Diomede Islands. Later in the summer of 1826, he passed the strait. Sailing north, the expedition then reached Point Barrow, hoping to meet somewhere around with Parry. But that meeting would fail for a 5 days (300 km) gap.


Stuaqpak AC Center: everything you need in an all purpose supermarket and supply store with deli.


Brower's Café

Occupies the most historic building in town, the 19th-century whaling station and store built by Charles Brower, who introduced a new whaling technique to the Iñupiat.

Big windows look out on the beach and a famous whalebone arch is just outside.

Northern Lights

Their menu starts with the owner's own Chinese food, plus deli selections and burgers, and great pizza.

Pepe's North of the Border

The most famous place in town thanks to an appearance. Crowded sometimes.

Mexican food, steak, and seafood.

The King Eider Inn


Barrow is connected with Anchorage and Fairbanks by regular air service.
Alaska 55 for Anchorage

The Alaska Airlines terminal


Visitors to Point Barrow receive a certificate as they were at the "land's end".

Driftwood from an umiak at the beach as the sun sets

Midnight sun dims the arctic ocean, through the arched whalebones, Barrow's